Sexual Harrasment on Intercity Buses

(Source)

Of course, I’ve never been sexually harassed on an overnight bus myself. But then I’ve never seen it happen nor heard anyone ever complaining about it either, nor have any of my female friends (Korean or Western). Are things really as bad as this article makes out?

[Why] 불 꺼진 심야고속버스, 술 취한 손이 내 가슴을…An express night bus with the lights off, a drunken hand on my breast

性추행·만취 난동 끊이지 않는 ‘달리는 범죄 사각지대’로, 유일한 안전요원은 운전기사 / [Becoming] a ‘running blind spot of crime’ with constant sexual molestation, intoxicated disturbances, and the driver the sole security officer

지난 12일 자정 무렵 광주발(發) 서울행(行) 심야 우등 고속버스 안. 버스가 출발한 지 10분 만에 한 여성이 소리를 질렀다. 막 고속도로에 진입한 버스는 갓길에 멈춰 섰다. 비명을 지른 20대 여성은 운전기사에게 자리를 바꿔달라고 했다. 여성 승객은 얼굴만 붉힐 뿐 이유를 얘기하지 않았다. 버스에 빈자리가 없어 운전기사는 여성 승객의 요구를 들어줄 수 없었다.

Inside the premium express night bus from Gwangju to Seoul around midnight on the 12th. Just ten minutes after the bus departed, a woman screamed. The bus, which had just entered the expressway, came to a stop on the shoulder of the road. The twenty-something woman who had screamed asked the bus driver to change her seat. She would not say the reason why, and she was only blushing. There were no empty seats on the bus so the bus driver could not grant her request (source, right).

고속버스가 다시 출발한 지 10분 정도가 지나자 또다시 비명이 들렸다. 버스는 재차 갓길에 멈췄다. 이 여성은 운전기사에게 “옆자리에 앉은 남자가 가슴을 만졌다”고 말했다. 술에 취한 듯 보이는 남성은 잠든 척했다. 이후 남성의 성추행은 한 차례 더 이어졌고, 고속버스는 예정에 없이 고속도로 갓길과 휴게소에 3차례 정차한 후 목적지인 서울에 도착했다. 50대 남성은 도착 후 유유히 사라졌고, 20대 여성 승객은 얼굴을 가린 채 울면서 황급히 자리를 떴다.

The bus had been back on the road for about ten minutes when a scream was heard again. The bus stopped on the shoulder for the second time.  The [same] woman told the bus driver, “The man sitting next to me touched my breast.” The man, who looked drunk, pretended to be asleep. After this, the man’s sexual molestation happened once more, and after the bus had made three unplanned stops on the expressway shoulder and a rest stop, it reached its Seoul destination.  The fifty-something man calmly disappeared after arrival, and the young female passenger left her seat hurriedly, crying with her face covered.

(Source)

심야 고속버스에서 성추행·흡연·난동 등이 빈번히 일어나고 있다. 늦은 밤 편히 휴식을 취하며 빠른 시간에 목적지에 가려는 이들이 선호하는 심야 고속버스가 ‘달리는 범죄의 사각지대’가 된 셈이다. 문제는 술에 취해 조용한 버스 안에서 고성방가를 일삼고 성추행까지 저질러도 제지할 방법이 마땅치 않다는 것이다.

In the express night bus, sexual molestation, smoking, and other disturbances occur frequently. This bus, preferred by people who want to relax comfortably late at night while quickly getting to their destination, has become a‘running blind spot of crime.The problem is that though someone becomes intoxicated and sings loudly in the quiet bus, or even commits sexual molestation, there is no suitable method of restraining them.

심야 고속버스는 출발과 동시에 전등을 끈다. 승객들의 취침을 위해 소등하는 것이 운전기사들에게는 의무처럼 돼 있다. 버스 안이 어두워 성추행이나 도난을 당해도 주변에서는 범행을 목격하기가 힘들다. 동부익스프레스 관계자는 “회사 모든 버스에 블랙박스를 설치했지만, 버스 내부는 인권 침해 소지가 있어 촬영하지 않는다”고 했다. 설사 버스 내부를 촬영할 수 있다고 하더라도 버스의 출발과 동시에 소등을 해 범행 현장 촬영은 불가능하다.

The lights are turned off in an express night bus as soon as it departs. Putting out the lights so passengers can sleep has become like a duty for drivers.  Because the inside of the bus is dark, even if one is sexually molested or stolen from, those nearby have trouble seeing the criminal behavior.  A source from Dongbu Express said, “The company installed a black box in all the buses, but because it is a possible civil rights violation, we don’t film inside the bus.”  Even if he had said they could film inside the bus, the lights are turned off after departure so filming the crime would be impossible.

(Source)

심야 고속버스에서 범행이 일어날 경우 제지할 사람이 없다는 것도 문제로 지적된다. 운전기사가 유일한 안전요원이다. 버스 안에서 소란이 일어나거나 범죄가 발생하면 운전기사는 달리는 고속버스를 갓길이나 인근 휴게소에 세워야 한다. 한 버스 운전기사는 “취객이 버스 안에서 성추행을 일삼는 경우가 많다”며 “피해 여성이 항의하면 어쩔 수 없이 고속도로 순찰대에 연락해 조치를 한다”고 했다. 고속도로 치안을 담당하는 고속도로순찰대가 도착하기 전까지 정시에 목적지에 도착하기 위해 달려야 하는 고속버스는 갓길이나 인근 휴게소에서 멈춰야 한다. 고속도로순찰대 관계자는 “심야 고속버스에서 종종 신고가 들어와 톨게이트나 휴게소로 출동해 범인을 인근 지구대에 인계한다”며 “순찰대가 30㎞마다 하나 정도 있다”고 했다.

Another problem that has been noted is that there is no one to stop criminal behavior that arises on the express night bus. If a disturbance arises or a crime is committed inside the bus, the driver must stop the express bus on the side of the road or at a nearby rest stop.  One bus driver said, “There are many cases in which drunken passengers sexually molest others several times inside the bus,” adding, “if the female victims complain, we have no choice but to contact the highway patrol station and take action.”  Before highway patrol,which is responsible for public order on the highway, arrives, the express bus that should keep moving in order to reach its destination at a fixed time has to stop on the shoulder or at a nearby rest stop. A highway patrol source said, “We sometimes receive reports from express night buses so we go to a toll-gate or rest stop and then we hand the criminal over to a nearby small police station,” and noted, “There’s highway patrol station every 30 kilometers or so.”

고속버스 운전기사는 취객에 대한 승차 거부를 할 수 있다. 그러나 심야 고속버스에서 술에 취한 승객을 보는 것은 어렵지 않다. 복수의 고속버스 운전기사들은 “취객들에 대한 단속은 절실하지만 승객을 한명이라도 더 태워야 하는 회사의 입장이 우선시되면서 승차거부를 하는 경우는 거의 없다”고 했다.

Express night bus drivers can refuse service to passengers.  However, it is not difficult to find drunken passengers on these buses.  Several [Marilyn – not sure if “several” is right; two Korean friends said it seems the reporter made a writing mistake with the word he used] express bus drivers said, “[The need for] crackdowns on drunken passengers is desperate, but the company’s position that every passenger counts is a priority so there are almost no cases of refusing service.”

고속버스와 경쟁 관계인 KTX·새마을호 등 철도의 경우 국토해양부 소속 철도특별사법경찰대 대원들이 심야시간 등 취약시간에 직접 열차에 탑승한다. 이들에겐 수갑·포승·가스분사기 등의 용품과 함께 범인을 현장에서 체포할 수 있는 권한이 있다.

In the cases of the KTX, Saemaeul, and other railway companies that are the economic competitors of express buses, officers from the Railway Special Judicial Police, part of the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, are on board late at night and at other vulnerable times.  They have the authority to arrest criminals on-the-spot with necessities like handcuffs, policeman’s rope, and tear gas guns. (end)

(Source)

With thanks again to Marilyn for translating it, that was the most read article on Naver a few weeks ago. Personally, I thought that stopping 3 times without alerting the authorities was unbelievably negligent of the first bus driver, and while fortunately it sounds like that’s not company policy, there’s no indication that he or she was punished for doing so either. Also, in one of the few other news stories on this subject I could find, it was actually the bus driver himself(!) that was accused of harassment in a separate incident in December 2010 (click on the picture above for a link to a Korean news video with a transcript), the video footage of which suggests that although Dongbu Express may well not film inside buses because of potential civil rights violations, curiously other companies don’t seem to have any such qualms.

Meanwhile, if anyone would like more information on sexual harassment in Korea, please see here for more on groping and general street harassment specifically, or here and here for more on sexual harassment in Korean workplaces.

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8 thoughts on “Sexual Harrasment on Intercity Buses

  1. Not everyone is comfortable telling a story about the last time they faced molestation so you cannot always assume it hasn’t happened to your friends or their friends.

    • Oh, my friends and I tell each other absolutely everything (probably far too much actually!), so I doubt it. But I’m quite happy to admit that their own friends might not be so forthcoming, and I’m not saying that harassment definitely isn’t a problem on buses either. Just that it’s the first I’ve heard of it, and that it was a surprise.

  2. The woman was crying and had v\claimed to have been groped 3 times, and yet nobody let her sit somewhere else… And I’m with you on being shocked that it had to happen 3 times without anyone actually doing anything.

    • I haven’t seen very many incidents on public transport in 11 years here (I mean anything: fights, drunk guys etc.), but in all those that I did there was always at the very least one person that actively tried to put an end to them. So it’s outrageous that, like you say, not one person (would have to be a guy I guess) let her sit somewhere else, let alone confronted the drunk guy.

      Originally I wrote “unbelievable” rather than “outrageous”, but I didn’t want to imply that I thought the story had been exaggerated or anything. After all, there was that notorious incident on a Seoul subway last year where a middle-aged woman physically attacked a teenage girl and no-one did anything to stop her, so such public apathy certainly does exist.

      • Oh, I’m not at all surprised nobody offered to help or change seats with her. Not in the least. While I’ve experienced some extraordinary courtesy and help from people when I’ve been harrassed or in bad situations, I’ve also had people intentionally ignore things and not get involved. First, nobody there feels *personally* responsible, second, nobody wants to end up sitting next to the abuser themselves, and finally, Korean society by and large does not often interfere with or intercede even in blatent cases of sexual harrassment. I’m not saying nobody ever intercedes, but I will say that lack of help is very common, too.

        • Sorry to hear that, and – thinking about it a bit harder – fortunately I’ve really seen and/or been in less than a handful of incidents myself, so I shouldn’t have generalized so much!

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